Protests won't stop Drag Queen Story Time in Sarnia, bookstore owner says
The next Drag Queen Story Time will be in January
A Sarnia, Ont., bookstore has brought in a drag queen to read to children four times this year, and the owner is vowing to continue the events despite backlash from some community members.
Susan Chamberlain, owner of the independent bookstore Book Keeper, says she's wanted to host these the family-friendly events for some time. After the first Drag Queen Story Time, she said she felt emotional.
"I felt like, 'This is why I do what I do. This is why the store is here for things like this', because you could see the kids just soaking it up," she said.
During the last event on Nov. 26, the drag queen dressed like Disney princess Elsa, which captured the attention of the children. They read a book together and interact with the children and sing songs.
It was the fourth Drag Queen Story Time held at the store. In October, Chamberlain said a few women stood outside protesting the event. The next month it got a little bigger.
"About 10 to 12 men dressed completely in black, their faces were masked, some of them had balaclavas. They were carrying a flag. They marched across the parking lot toward us, so it was quite a spectacle to behold," she said.
'There is no reasoning with them'
The store was having a sale at the time, so it was also full of customers. Chamberlain said the protesters had signs saying to leave the children alone.
"They seem to be saying that we're grooming children, which is a completely absurd notion," she said.
Most were peaceful, she said, though some were trying to engage, so she asked if they wanted to come inside and see the event, but no one took her up on her offer.
"I learned quickly that there is no reasoning with them and that it's best just to be quiet and ignore them," she said.
Chamberlain called the police to try to remove them from the private property, but said police told her they could not because it wasn't her property. She is working to get a signed letter from the owner of the property in case they show up to the next event in January.
Amanda Villa was reading to children that day. Villa has done drag for about 30 years, the last two professionally, and is also a retired elementary school teacher.
"I'm really good at sort of building comprehension behind reading, asking good questions, like, 'Have you ever done that in your life? Does this sound familiar? What do you think the character is going to do next?' You know, just fun stuff like that," said Villa.
Villa said even though there were protesters at the performance, it's not stopping Villa from living authentically.
"If we wander through life believing in ourselves and I'll be honest, have the proof behind us to show who we are, then we shouldn't worry about anything or how people feel," Villa said. "If I stay kind of in the moment of it all and keep believing in me, I don't let that bother me too much."
Bringing families together in an inclusive way
Villa said Chamberlain wanted to bring families together in an inclusive way, showing all the difference that exists in the world.
"That's literally the mission, there's nothing else behind it, just happens to be a man in a dress," said Villa.
Villa pointing to the example of performers like Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus, who perform for children in a kid-friendly way, but during the night do performances for an adult audience.
"You're foolish if you're out there fighting against us, believing that I'm sexualizing anything, believing that this is a fetish in some way," said Villa, who has decades of experience in theatre and performing.
Although there has been pushback about the event, support for it has grown, according to Chamberlain. The group Sarnia Lambton Alliance Against Hate posted on social media that it supports the bookstore, "against the hate and harmful messages they have received for their attempts to encourage diversity and acceptance in our community."
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The support flowing to the Book Keeper has Chamberlain planning to turn the next Drag Queen Story Time into a "Love wins" party — one that will take place outside the store.
"We hope to fill the exterior of the store with supporters, which I think will not be difficult. I think we'll have lots of supporters and then when it's time for the story, time to start, we can all just pile into the store,"she said.
Chamberlain said the story time will be for all ages and is looking forward to the event.
"And if the protesters come, I don't think there's going to be any room for them, to be honest."